ASH: LL&DD Special - "LabViews"

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Thu Jun 21 23:34:01 PDT 2012

     Cover: Doctor Developer standing in a warehouse filled with robots,
spaceships, and the ghost of Lady Lawful.

 Coherent                                                  LL&DD Special
 Comics          | ADY | AWFUL    __        __                "LabViews"
 Presents an     |__   |__     &  | \ OCTOR | \ EVELOPER   copyright 2012
 ASHistory Tale:                  |_/       |_/            by Andrew Burton

View #1: Aeronaughty

[Sky Harbor Airport, Northbrook IL - Autumn, 1996]

     A sudden gust of wind along the side the nondescript, aging hanger was
just strong enough to tousle Jennifer's hair.  A common enough motion, but it
was enough to distract Cameron as he was trying to type in his sixteen digit
passcode to deactivate the locks, alarms, and the two motion-tracking turrets
aimed at the door.  The way the hair whipped across her face, like streaks of
gold, was enough to to make him wonder what it would feel like if she twisted
her head fast enough and close enough so it whipped him in the face.  It was
an odd, but alluring thought.  So much so that Cameron stopped typing and
tried to imagine what it would feel like.
     "Forget your combination?" Jennifer asked, grinning at him.
     "Ah, no," Cameron answered, startled out of his day dream.  He finished
the sequence and the telltale switched from red to green.  He pushed the door
open and led then way in, only remebering "ladies first" when he turned the
lights on.
     "So what did you...want," Jennifer gasped as the lights
illuminated the hanger.
     The hanger was one of his secrets, something he didn't mention to the
DSHA when switching sides.  He probably should have, and there was a decent
probability Jennifer would want him to, but for the moment it was a shared
     "You did all this?" Jennifer asked.  She'd passed Cameron once they'd
entered the hanger and was standing a few feet in front of him.  She glanced
back long enough to ask, but then went back to,
downright gawking.
     "Uh, yeah," Cameron nodded, "Most of it.  Ah, Software Pirate helped me
iron out some of the software bugs that control the automation, but most of
it, yeah...I made it."
     "All this" was Jennifer's awestruck term for the ringed mass of robot
arms encircling a mostly looked like a jet fighter.  The arms
were still, but given the stacks of raw materials...metal plates, ceramic
plates, tubes and canisters of chemicals, and rolls of wire...within their
reach, she could more than easily, beyond obviously tell they were
responsible for the construction of the craft.
     Beyond the arms, connected by thick snakes of cables, were banks of
computers.  They were stacked in in a grid of shelving standing in the middle
of the floor.  Most looked like ordinary desktop workstations, much like the
kind she had at home before Cameron offered her an upgrade as a birthday
present. In fact as she walked closer, she saw her computer; the purple
unicorn sticker was still there.
     Interspersed between the computers were air conditioning units, the kind
you could buy at any appliance store.  Below the computers were even more,
the fans aimed upward.  If she guessed right, Jennifer thought the A/C units
at the bottom would blow air up, the middle-tier units would blow inwards,
and the ones up top blew outwards.  It was designed...adhoc and out of
completely commodity parts, Cameron's signature keep a constant
flow of cool air blowing in and hot air out.
     Like the computers, the AC array too was turned off.
     "Nice to know you're into recycling," Jennifer teased.  She tapped the
case of her computer, the old system she'd gotten in college and kept using
because it kept working.
     "Yeah," Cameron replied, blushing. "People, businesses, banks...throw
out, ah, good stuff.  I've gotten pretty good at recycling.  It creates less
of a paper trail that, you know, uh, buying a real supercomputer."
     "So why is it all turned off?" Jennifer asked.  Cameron was pretty good
when it came to automation.  His robots were evidence of that.  Though, she
supposed, maybe he did leave it running most of the time.  This trip might be
to see why it wasn't running.
     "It creates a lot of heat," Cameron said, "if I run it for long in the
summer, parts start to melt.  Fall and winter are the best time."  He walked
over to the one computer monitor in the setup.  "I thought, with the weather
getting cooler, you might like to see, ah, me turn it on."
     Jennifer grinned. "Oh, yes," she virtually purred.
     Cameron smiled as he turned the monitor on and waited for it to warm up.
     Once it was on, Cameron typed in a series of commands that brought up a
crude but meaningful inteface.  The blocky GUI had several rectangles set
within a series of squares.  Based on the count, Jennifer realized she was
seeing the different levels of the shelves.  Each rectangle was a computer or
A/C unit.  At the moment they were all red, turned off.
     With a quick sequence of keys, the rectangles began to turn green just
as the air conditioners roared to life.  It was noisy, that was for certain.
In fact, once they were turned on, Cameron had to yell as he asked, "Would
you like to turn the computers on?"
     "Try to stop me!" Jennifer yelled back.  A puzzled look on Cameron's
face...either he didn't hear her or was distracted, trying to think of how to
stop her...prompted Jenifer to nod and yell back, "Hell yes!"
     Cameron stepped aside so she could stand in front of the console.  He
leaned forward, close enough that he didn't have to yell as he explained how
to turn the computers on.  By the time she entered the sequence, the air
conditioning units were blowing in full force, creating quite a breeze in the
hanger.  It wasn't going to rip the roof off, but she was constantly having
to brush strands of hair our of her face.
     She turned back to ask Cameron a question about the sequence, only to
find him holding out a rubberband in one hand and squinting where he'd taken
several slaps to the face from her locks.  "Hah," she laughed.  She took the
rubberband and pulled her hair back into a more managable ponytail.  "You
think of everything, eh?" she asked just short of yelling.
     Cameron thought for a second before answering, "But sometimes I get the
variables wrong."

               *              *              *              *

View 2: Recharged Up

[Chicago, IL - Spring, 1997]

     "Sex-powered supercomputer" seemed to be an obscene name to give a
machine, but it was an accurate description.
     It had started out simply enough as an experiment with some small-time
college physics students who wanted money for beer.  They posted an ad on a
local BBS for "Anti-Entropy Battery Packs" that purported to multiply the
output of a battery ten-fold.  Such claims were usually farcical, but since
moving to Chicago, Cameron's access to unauthorized para-tech has been rare.
He was willing to take a chance.
     The two grungy students weren't lying.  Their pack, flying in the face
of Maxwellian Physics, could boost a regular battery at least ten times its
normal power.  Unfortunately, there were two catches.  
     First: someone with the magene had to activate the batteries.  After
some experimentation, Cameron figured out that "activation" was pretty
nebulous.  Any positive contact with the batteries would make them work.
     Second: the batteries would tend to disintegrate after a few weeks.
Cameron worked out that there was some "anti-entropy" to the packs, but the
source of the power was actually a matter conversion reaction.  His best
estimate was that neutrons were...somehow...breaking down into protons and
electrons, with the electrons adding to the flow.  But since this transmuted
the elements into things that had different bonding properties than the
original material, after a certain point, the actual batteries would
     Then the process would have to start all over again. It would have been
tedious with only one or two packs, but the students were a thirsty pair, and
soon Cameron had a dozen packs daisy-chained together powering the small
cluster of old computers he'd been collecting since his exodus from Detroit.
     Most of them were old, pre-Pentium relics people threw out or sold, a
little newer than the ones in his aeronautics lab, but still well behind the
curve.  Alone they weren't very powerful, but together, wired into a network
of serial cables and modems, he found they were good enough to do some
rudimentary, off the books research into neural network simulations.  And
since he was working with slightly better raw materials, the air conditioning
requirements were much more reasonable.  It would be a while before they
advanced Prototype's computer vision algorithms, but he had time.
     The problem was power.
     Strictly speaking, it was off the books research, since a chunk of it
was being done based off work given to him by Software Pirate, who'd stolen
it from some west coast research firm.  Yes, it would have been faster
running it on the cluster he kept in Jennifer's garage, or buying time on a
real supercomputer.  Unfortunately, that came with the risk of awkward
     So, he used his SPSC, which was not pronounced Species, no matter what
Software Pirate called it.  Unfortunately, the apartment he rented was not
wired to house thirty desktop computers, six air conditioners, and a
mini-tower control node.  He'd started tripping the breakers when it was half
that, before discovering the anti-entropy battery packs.  Those had been the
     It took a good bit of rewiring, basically building a small power grid
for the apartment, and he knew wouldn't be getting his deposit back if he
ever left.  However, with the batteries spread out, working in conjunction
with the sockets around the apartment, he was able to keep everything running
constantly.  The only real problem then came from the batteries exhausting
themselves every few weeks, but even that wasn't catastrophic thanks to the
way he kept them tiered.
     He did have to keep watch on the batteries...or at least a subsystem
built into his micro-grid kept watch...because replacing the batteries took a
few days.  A few very frustrating days.
     When a battery began to reach entropic obscene way of
describing it, but it wasn't his technology...Cameron would have to find some
project to keep him busy at his lab.  Anything that would keep him busy, at
work, and distracted would do.  By day three, Jennifer would reach her own
kind of entropic collapse.  He could track her mood on a graph, going from
her normal self up to very playful, then quickly down to grumpy, and soon
back to normal.  Immediately upon her resumption to normal, Cameron would
     Step one, retrieve the thrown-out mundane batteries from the bedroom
trashcan.  Step two, put them back in the "back massage" gadget Jennifer kept
in her underwear drawer.  Step three, replace the lab batteries about to
collapse with the ones freshly activated by their recent tour of duty.
Finally, most importantly, step four, buy Jennifer flowers, chocolates, and
dinner at her favorite restaurant.
     "For me?" Jennifer asked, inhaling a deep breath with her nose buried in
a dozen roses.
     "I know I've been distracted lately," Cameron mumbled.  He tried to vary
his apologies, next time if his calendar was right, he would have to
apologize for working through Valentine's Day.  "I wanted to say I was
     Jennifer kissed him.  "Apology accepted."  She began rummaging in the
kitchen for a vase.  "It's not like you plan these things."

               *              *              *              *

View #3: Rebooted

[Detroit, MI - Winter, early 2027]

     Constructing the P.A.R.L.L. Cluster had taken almost twenty years once
he'd started collecting the hardware for it.  Most of it was normal-tech,
pieces of old city infrastructure he'd set aside for himself.  Some of it was
Pranir, some of it was fabricated from Earth technology that had advanced
enough for him knockoff some of the simpler Pranir reductions of Santari
tech.  Very little of it was paratech, mostly the power systems that he'd
commissioned from Sam.  While his position certainly gave him access to as
much of the power grid as he might need, old habits, old caution, insisted on
an independent source.
     Sam Zimmerman and his team of Reverse Engineers, as they called
themselves, were pretty good about taking small jobs between acting as
protectors of the city and working on their own discoveries.  He didn't mind
asking them to help in areas where his lack of a magene hindered his
progress, but he was careful to break up his requests to keep them from
putting together too many pieces.
     His latest project was one of the kinds of things they would worry
about, and might even alert someone like Netwalker about.  Even though he'd
been one of the good guys longer than any of them had been alive, they still
worried he'd backslide, and he couldn't understand why they were so concerned.
     The bulk of the P.A.R.L.L. cluster was housed below the staging area.
There were rows of computers down there, rewired and rebuilt to each be as
powerful and independent as possible.  Connecting them were miles of fiber
optic cable, each running to a switch, with twenty four computers to each
switch.  Each of these switches was connected to the others with its own
fiber cable, so that the switches formed their own little routing cluster
within the overall cluster.
     Ultimately the switches were connected to a holoplatform in the middle
of the staging area.  It was a transparent cylinder in the middle of the room
with projectors at the top and bottom.  When activated the tank would fill
with a fine mist that would reflect light and fill the cylinder with a three-
dimensional image.  It was, admittedly, an older technology, but it was
strictly terrestrial, normal-tech that Cameron could operate, repair, and if
need be replace by himself.
     Unlike in his older labs, Cameron had not wasted space with terminals.
He had enough processing power below and chose to use a wireless, tablet
interface to do simple diagnostics.  Tablet tech had been in its infancy back
in the old days, but now it was considered as old-fashioned as beige boxes
and keyboards with moving parts.  All of those things still existed, of
course, because they worked and were cheap.  But the overall impression was
that it was a leftover set from some entertainment program of a decade
earlier, not that it was the bleeding-edge facility that it truly was.
     Cameron looked at the tablet and used his finger to flick through
settings.  Every thing looked all right.  Network traffic was nominal.  The
individual computers had all performed beyond the minimum he calculated they
would need to for this to work.  All that remained was to start it up.
     P.A.R.L.L. was essentially a very complicated statistics program, so
complicated it needed four hundred eighty interlinked systems to work.  Each
system would run a full copy of the program, but the way they interacted
would cause each instance to differentiate itself from the former.  Their
interactions would ultimately culminate in the holotank that, in turn, would
act as a second type node in the network, one that would feed the other
systems information.  The entire P.A.R.L.L. Cluster environment would be a
continuous feedback loop.
     If it worked.
     That was the thing.
     Cameron knew his math was as close to perfect as it could be, but in a
system this complex, close might not be good enough.  He wasn't going to come
this far and stop.
     Cameron flipped through his tablet until he reached the activation
option.  It was a single slider that displayed Start now, and would show Stop
once he touched it.  With a single finger, Cameron touched the slider.
     The holotank began to fill with mist.  Then the lights came on.  After a
second an image began to form in the tank.  She was pink, naked, and
beautiful.  When the image fully focused her eyes snapped open.  Then she
     "Probablistic Automated Responding Lady Lawful, version one point oh,
     The was a pause after she stopped talking.  She looked down at herself,
a trick of the holotank using cameras placed around the room reworking the
angles and feeding her what the room, what Cameron, and what she would look
like from where she stood in the tank.  Her skin became a deeper shade of
red, and she looked back up at where Cameron was.  The P.A.R.L.L. avatar
shook her head and said, "Four hundred eighty-one nodes and you skimp on
clothes.  You pervert."
     "It's,'s nice to see all of you," Cameron shrugged.


Author's Notes:

     Cameron's aeronautic facility is in one of the two remaining hangers of
the closed down Sky Harbor Airport.  I'm not sure if he owns it or squats in
     The runner-up name for P.A.R.L.L. was "Jentelligence" but Deedee sucks
at naming things.  Also, even though I pronounce it Parallel, he prefers
spelling the whole thing out everytime he says it.

Editor's Notes:

     I picked the title, it's a reference to LabView, a commonly used
software package in physics lab classes.  
     This isn't #11, because Andy wants to use #11-12 for the wedding story.
So, another Special.  :)
     By the way, if you're wondering what happened to the whole "Doctor
Developer goes to jail" plot point, that will be revealed eventually.  But
there's a reason the last scene is in 2027 rather than 2026.


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